All About Hawaiian Cuisine

The islands of Hawaii are truly like nowhere else on earth. The Aloha State is such a melting pot that has been influenced by a variety of other cultures, and one of the main places each of those cultures gets to shine is in authentic Hawaiian cuisine. Whether you’ve attended international cooking schools or simply fancy yourself as a foodie, there’s a lot to know about how people eat in Hawaii.

Hawaiian influences
Before Polynesian voyagers began settling on the Hawaiian islands between 300 and 500 AD, there wasn’t a whole lot there. The explorers brought plants and animals, which soon began to flourish on the islands. After some time, coconuts, sweet potatoes, pineapple, taro and sugarcane began being commonplace in native Hawaiian’s dishes. Missionaries and whalers began exploring the Hawaiian islands in the late 1700s, and with them, the concept of European and New England cuisine was introduced to the natives. The late 1800s and early 1900s brought an influx of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Filipino immigrants when the Hawaiian plantations expanded. This incorporated even more ethnic dishes into the already diverse mix that was Hawaiian cuisine.

Hawaiian staples
If you vacation in Hawaii, chances are you’ll be at least little bit puzzled by what you see on some authentic menus. Here are a few of the traditional staples in Hawaiian cuisine that all tourists need to try at least once:

  • Poi: Poi is a starch made from taro root. This paste has a pudding-like texture and is made by mashing the root and mixing it in water. After a couple of days, the mix begins to ferment, giving the poi a very distinct flavor. According to Canoe Plants, there are about 87 different types of taro root used today to make poi.
  • Laulau: Poi is made from the taro root, and laulau is made from the leaves. Though it was traditionally prepared by wrapping pork with the leaves and cooking it in an underground rock oven, modern chefs make it with chicken, beef or fish, and many people cook it in a slow cooker.
  • Poke: Poke is a dish made with tuna, though other saltwater fish can be used as well. The fish is seasoned with salt, onion, garlic, chili pepper, sesame oil and soy sauce, and the fish isn’t cooked. Just be sure to use sashimi-grade tuna to ensure that it’s safe to eat.
  • Haupia: What’s a trip to Hawaii without some coconut? Haupia is a dessert with a pudding-like texture that’s served in gelatinous squares. While it can be eaten by itself, it’s typically served alongside fruit.

The mai tai is one of Hawaii's most well-known cocktails.
Hawaiian cocktails
Something else that sets Hawaii aside as a tourist destination – aside from the beaches, of course – is the array of classic cocktails that stem from the islands. A few of the most beloved Hawaiian cocktails include:

  • Mai Tai: White rum + dark rum + orange Curacao + Orgeat syrup + lime juice
  • Blue Hawaii: White rum + vodka + blue Curacao + pineapple juice + sweet and sour
  • Chi chi: Vodka + coconut milk + pineapple juice
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